Employee health and productivity are directly impacted by office design, according to Leigh Stringer, author of The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees — and Boost Your Company's Bottom Line. This book makes it clear that some of the problems in your workspaces can be easily and inexpensively solved. While others may take more money and time to fix, the returns on investment are high, Stringer contends. You could help reduce your health care costs and employee absenteeism as well as boost engagement and productivity.
Here are a few of the common office design issues Stringer's book addresses and some suggestions for dealing with them:
Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, are caused by strain on the back and joints. They can occur when employees sit for long periods of time, practice bad posture and perform repetitive movements. Stringer notes that MSDs can devastate employee health, triggering absenteeism and potentially creating huge health care costs for employers. Simply encouraging your employees to stand up and stretch can make a big difference, as can investments in ergonomic chairs and standing desks.
Stringer notes that open-plan offices simply don't work well for many employees, who feel stressed out by noise, a lack of privacy and an anxiety-inducing inability to focus. The solution is to make your workspaces capable of serving different employee working styles. Open meeting areas should be complemented by quieter, more private spaces where employees can immerse themselves in a task or de-stress without interruption.
Limited Access to Natural Light
Darkness is bad for the eyes and any work that requires focus. Stringer offers strong evidence that access to natural light boosts productivity and employee engagement and helps workers feel more creative and less stressed. Healthy workspaces should include natural elements such as plants, access to natural light and outside views.
These are not only potential fire and security hazards, but they signal to employees and clients that efficiency and attention to detail are not top priorities, according to Stringer. "Big piles of paper eat into the workspace and make us feel crowded," she writes. Provide employees with storage solutions (for example, letter sorters and under-desk drawers), and encourage them to de-clutter.
Don't waste workspace, just as you wouldn't waste any other business resource. Maximize your available workspaces to promote your values and send healthy messages to your employees. Even a room where an employee can lock the door from the inside to make a personal phone call, take a 20-minute nap or meditate for a few minutes can be highly supportive of health. You can use wall spaces in open areas to promote your core values, such as working together and supporting each other when things get hectic.
Experiment with your workspaces — then fine-tune by doing more of what works and less of what doesn't. If none of your employees sign up for a lunchtime meditation program, then try creating a running or walking group. As Stringer suggests, "consider the work environment not as a finished product but ... a laboratory for testing healthy strategies and innovation." Listen to your employees, track your health-related metrics (such as days absent and health care costs) and keep striving to improve.
For more recommendations to help you create a healthier workplace, check out our article on developing a positive work culture.
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